Marijuana Fuels Trinidad's Revival - and a Rise in Black Market Arrests in Neighboring States

By Roeder, Tom | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), February 25, 2018 | Go to article overview

Marijuana Fuels Trinidad's Revival - and a Rise in Black Market Arrests in Neighboring States


Roeder, Tom, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO)


Trinidad should have a green cloud obscuring its vistas.

By numbers compiled by Colorado marijuana regulators, it's the most stoned city in the Rockies and possibly the planet, with nearly $300 in monthly recreational marijuana sales for every man, woman and child in Las Animas County.

While the city of 8,100 residents is selling marijuana at 15 times the clip of Boulder County, most of the weed is heading south on Interstate 25. It's part of a phenomenon that has drawn the ire of Colorado's neighboring states and has become the subject of a string of recent academic studies - legal marijuana illegally crossing state borders.

"Your legal market is still our black market," explained Ryan Spohn, who heads the Center for Justice Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and has studied how his state's marijuana arrests have spiked in counties that border Colorado.

Per-capita marijuana sales for Colorado counties

Klebba, like many Trinidad residents, is suspicious of the boom. It's almost too much prosperity for a town that's tumbled bust-to-bust since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.

This boom is precarious, too. The marijuana El Dorado could wilt in the face of threatened federal enforcement. Almost worse, Colorado's neighbors could follow the Centennial State on the path to legalization, ending the need for what a local dispensary worker called a "marijuana mecca."

While it lasts, Trinidad has plenty to celebrate. Millions in marijuana taxes - $2.8 million in 2017 alone - are ending decades of civic decay. There are jobs, and some hope.

"It's been good," said Trinidad native Gianna Torres, who runs I Love Sugar, a well-placed candy shop on Commercial Street near a block with eight marijuana stores.

The happy cannabis tourists pack Torres Store on the weekends. By Thursday she was already out of her signature chocolate-covered bacon.

"They go crazy for it," she said.

Designer contraband

As Trinidad revels in its new found marijuana wealth, there's a different story 20 miles south across the New Mexico line. In Raton, Colfax County Undersheriff Leonard Baca says he hardly has enough room to store all the marijuana his deputies are seizing on Interstate 25.

He can see where it comes from. It seems stores in Trinidad know how to brand their products.

"It says it right on the label," Baca said, sitting in his office a few feet down the hall from his bulging evidence locker.

From Oklahoma City to Salt Lake, cops are finding smuggled Colorado marijuana and marijuana products.

"It's showing up here," said Mark Woodward, with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, of Colorado labeled marijuana packages. He said it's coming from Oklahoma residents who've visited Colorado.

It's not just leaving by car - Woodward said his state is intercepting an increasing amount of pot in the U.S. mail.

That's no surprise to Washington State University economist Ben Cowan, who recently published a research paper on the topic. Near the two states that approved the sale of recreational marijuana in 2012, the evidence is clear.

"We're observing an increase in marijuana possession arrests in border states that neighbor Colorado and Washington," he said.

Marijuana possession arrests have jumped 30 percent in border counties just across state lines, Cowan's study found. And Colorado's impact on neighbors is the greater of the two states.

"Colorado is an interesting experiment in the sense that are so many states around it that have not legalized," he said.

It's an experiment that could draw increased scrutiny as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a hands-off policy toward states that have legalized what is still, under federal law, a Class I illegal drug.

"It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission," Sessions said in a statement. …

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